We’ve been fortunate that the weather has been cold and rainy the past few days and we had Veronika come to visit us in the flat again all day yesterday and this morning. Allyson’s description of our time with Veronika is below, while I spend a moment describing Arkalyk. A story we heard today gave me a good excuse to describe the town for you.
Arkalyk is a place of pretty strong contrasts, and feels like a model of 1950s, Soviet-style planned living (a portion of the Soviet space program was located near here for a long time). It does seem as if the Soviets stopped spending money on its upkeep fairly soon after it was built and Kazakhstan has only recently had the funds to fix it up, which is being done slowly. Half the buildings are bricked over and the cars all seem to be of Reagan-era (sorry, Gorbachev-era) vintage, but the people all dress stylishly, and unlike the period immediately pre- and post-independence in 1991, there are enough jobs and food for all. Still, the people are very tied to the land and the habits that helped them get by when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union.
Anyway, we heard from Khabiba that a friend of hers had called to ask if she’d like to buy a sheep, which this friend had received as payment this afternoon for some work she’d done for someone in town recently. The sheep was living on the balcony of this friend’s apartment, and the friend wanted the use of the balcony back but didn’t need the mutton, having stocked up on her meat for the winter. Khabiba didn’t need the sheep, because she had gotten up at 5:30 this morning to buy meat from the market that sets up intermittently in the middle of town, and she figured that the 65 kilos (120 pounds) of meat she’d bought was enough to tide her family, her in-laws, and us over until the next time that the market, Brigadoon-like, was open for business. In fact, everyone that Khabiba’s friend knew had gone to the market and done the same thing, so the sheep went unsold and is probably peacefully sleeping on the balcony as we write this.
Now here’s Ally on Veronika…
Another delightful visit with Veronika. I must admit that the more time we spend with her at our flat the better. Every time we bring her back to the orphanage and see her in her group we just get sad for her. Maybe she is fine, it is really all that she has known and has been her world, friends and family, up until now. I’m sure she must be a bit confused with us, after all she hardly understands what we are saying to her in English and the handful of Russian praises and phrases we have don’t go very far. Somehow we all get by and today we actually made her laugh – we heard her giggle and it was so much fun. Veronika is fairly silent, she mumbles a few words, but she mostly does not speak. We will work on that and maybe even get some help once we get home. I’ve already been thinking that it will be very easy to find a Russian-speaking woman back in Brooklyn who can come to our home and speak to Veronika and help us transition better. I saw woman because really that is what she has known in the orphanage--there do not seem to be many men around. She is fascinated with Tom’s unshaven face and Adam’s Apple, she loves to be held by him while she puts her hand on his throat and feels it move when he speaks (she continues to check my neck on a daily basis to see if I have developed one as well). It has only been a week since we met Veronika, it’s amazing how connected we feel already.
By the way, a couple of people have asked, we will be keeping her name, and adding “Rose” as her middle name in honor of both of our grandmothers. Until next time, keep the comments and emails coming, we enjoy getting them and miss you all.